What Is The Difference Between a Mass Tort And a Class Action Lawsuit?
You may have received a notice in the mail mentioning you could be a participant in a class action lawsuit. Or maybe, you’re already engaged with a lawyer about a legal claim you’re pursuing and they mention that they’re considering your case as part of a mass tort claim. In either case it can be a confusing situation but it is important to understand the difference specific to any legal claim you may be involved in where your attorney is advising on the direction of your case.
Class action lawsuits are a way of consolidating legal cases, to help the courts to reduce the time it takes to process trials, and it also helps plaintiffs share costs. It works well in situations where plaintiffs have many characteristics in common.
There is another method used to merge cases. Mass torts achieve similar results, but plaintiffs can be more diverse. The two types of cases can be confusing. Here is what you need to about the differences between mass torts and class action lawsuits.
Why Are Cases Consolidated?
When a group of people with similar circumstances have been injured in the same way, they can form together as a class. The defendant is the same for each plaintiff. Together these plaintiffs bring their complaint to the court as one.
If each plaintiff were to attempt to try the case individually, they would all have to prove the same exact facts in each trial. The repetition makes it difficult and time consuming to work through the volume of separate cases. When consolidated, mass torts and class action lawsuits allow teams of lawyers to pool resources. This reduces the redundancies.
About Class Action Lawsuits
In a class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs all have enough traits in common to form a specific class. To join the suit, an individual would simply have to prove that their situation fits the defined characteristics of the class.
These class characteristics are defined as:
- The class is large enough, and naming individual plaintiffs is time-consuming and impractical.
- The questions of law must be common to each member.
- The common questions of law must outweigh the individual questions.
- A representative must be chosen that represents the interests of the class.
The class representative is the critical distinguishing aspect of a lawsuit. This representative is often a team of lawyers that bring the complaint to court on behalf of the members of the class. The case is tried in a single court and members of the class split awards.
This system works well for cases in which many people have been injured in the same way by a single offender. Environmental damage caused by an industrial accident are often settled in this way. Sometimes it works well for injury claims related to a vehicle collision. A plane crash that hurts passengers or a utility pipe that bursts and pollutes surrounding lands are both suitable examples. In these instances, a class is many members of a community that have shared a similar negative experience. This incident occurred due to the negligence of the defendant.
How Mass Torts Work
Torts are like class action lawsuits, but the same standards of similarity between members of the class are not as rigidly enforced. Plaintiffs often have differences, but enough common traits must still exist to justify the tort. Sometimes the only common trait is that plaintiffs were injured by the same product or company.
These types of actions commonly settle cases involving defective medications or consumer products. The plaintiffs may live in different locations, experience different problems with a product, or have different levels of injury as a result.
Torts are more flexible than class action lawsuits in many ways:
- A smaller group of plaintiffs can form a class
- Attorneys representing different plaintiffs share investigations
- Less restrictive criteria for establishing similarities with other plaintiffs
- Although uncommon, cases can be heard in different courts if necessary
Like class action lawsuits, mass torts are often tried in the same court. Participants can be from anywhere. Teams of lawyers join can pool resources, but individual plaintiffs must first prove that they belong to the class to the tort. They also have the burden of establishing the degree of harm caused.
One of the drawbacks of a mass tort is establishing how much the plaintiff should be compensated. The differences in circumstances make it difficult to reconcile each individual claim fairly. These cases do not always follow standard court procedures which can also cause delays.
Advantages for Consumers
Large companies criticize the use of class actions, but this method of trial is essential for protecting consumers. Pooling resources give the group a better chance to be fairly represented. Critics point out that lawyers profit the most from these cases. The advantage is that large organizations must also take responsibility for unethical behavior.
Class action lawsuits and mass torts ensure that adequate damages are paid. Oftentimes the amount of injury that an individual sustains is not enough to make the cost of trial worthwhile for a specific victim. That is not to say that the damage is insignificant. It means that the costs of going to trial are more than the amount that the victim is likely to receive. This discourages many from even attempting to have their grievances addressed. Distributing the expenses of a trial over a larger group helps to even the playing field.
If you have a question about a class action lawsuit or a mass tort, be sure to get into contact with an experienced attorney. An expert in the field of personal injury claims will be able to guide you and help you establish your claim.